Council Replaces Borough EMCs With Mayor’s Hand Picked Non-Residents
Moments before the Mount Pocono Borough Council was scheduled to declare a state of emergency due to the current public health crisis, the mayor engineered the replacement of the borough's two long-time Emergency Management Coordinators (“EMC”), former borough council member Jeff Woehrle and former fire department chief Randy Altemose. Neither were at the meeting, nor had they received advance notice. At April’s regular borough council meeting, the mayor introduced a non-agenda resolution to appoint two non-residents to the volunteer positions. He told council and the public that the positions were vacant. A source familiar with a conversation with the mayor told The Boro* that the mayor had been informed before the meeting that he was wrong and also that Woehrle and Altemose had been our EMCs for years. During the current health crisis, Woehrle has been active in advising the public about safety procedures and where to find dependable sources of information. He has also issued a number of “open letters”, widely published on social media and on this publication’s website, concerning best practices and other information during the crisis. At the meeting, Council member Fran O’Boyle and Borough Secretary Lori Noonan confirmed that borough residents Woehrle and Altemose had been appointed by the governor as our EMCs. The mayor then shifted his argument, saying that neither man was qualified to serve. The council acceded to the mayor’s request and unanimously voted to replace the sitting borough EMCs. The mayor asked the council to replace them with two non-residents, Rich Gannon, a municipal authority employee (the mayor is on the authority board), and Denise Doremus, director of operations for the Pocono Mountain Regional EMS. Neither live in Mount Pocono. Woehrle has been EMC for over nine years following his appointed by Governor Edward Rendell on January 3, 2011. Altemose was also appointed a number of years ago. Through their long involvement with the Pocono Mountain Volunteer Fire Company, both men have been through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “National Incident Management System” (“NIMS”) Training. With respect to the Mayor’s assertion that he was not qualified, Altemose, a member of the PMVFC for 45 years, and Chief, off and on, for over 20 years, told The Boro*, “I’ve had NIMS 100, 200, 300, 700 & 800 training as well as dozens of state courses through the Pennsylvania Fire Academy, including being certified as an State Level instructor”. “I’ve also participated and helped coordinate various mock disaster drills through the years. As Chief of the Volunteer Fire Company I’ve been the Incident Commander, directing and coordinating multiple agencies and resources, at literally hundreds of emergencies and disasters.” Altemose said no one has contacted him to tell him of the move, “I had no idea that the Borough had made a change in EMC until Jeff texted me on Tuesday morning, it was quite a shock to say the least. I have had no communication with anyone from the borough and have not been officially notified.” The new EMCs will be required to go through two levels of certification, and application will need to be made to the County EMC, who in turn will need to apply to the Governor for the appointment. Only after the Governor makes the appointment will they be able to serve. Reportedly the mayor and council president have rushed through the application to the County EMC and scheduled them for the training classes they need.
The gubernatorial appointments of Woehrle and Altemose remain valid until a “successor is appointed”. Altemose told The Boro* that, considering the current public health emergency, he will remain in the post until replaced, out of concern for the welfare of Mount Pocono residents. Last year, Woehrle publicly supported opponents of the mayor and council president in the 2019 elections. He was also vocal in opposition to the large pay raises and health benefits that they tried to give to themselves. Given his long unquestioned service in the volunteer position, and the extensive training and experience of the two men, Woehrle believes the action to be drive by politics. “It is unfortunate that [the mayor and council] have chosen to put political revenge above the health and welfare of borough residents,” he told The Boro*. Like Altemose, he promised to remain in the post until his replacement qualifies, saying he “will not allow the petty actions of an incompetent council to stand in the way of protecting Mount Pocono resident, particularly in this difficult time.” After voting to replace Woehrle and Altemose, the council then voted unanimously to adopt a declaration of emergency in the borough. Woehrle also said that he has received no official word from council that he is being replaced. He learned of council’s action from members of the public who were watching a livestream of the meeting. Altemose said “If the Borough wants to make changes to their EMC personnel that’s their prerogative, but if they have truly decided to do this because they think Jeff and myself are not qualified, I strongly take exception to that.” He also wondered about the choice to turn to people outside the borough. Altemose said that it seemed to him that someone “in a volunteer unpaid position would be more inclined to be proactive if they were a resident.” The current council members are Patty Bucco, Aida Montanez, Thomas Neville, Francis O’Boyle, Stacy Stewart-Keeler, and Claudette Williams. Montanez, O’Boyle, Stewart-Keeler, and Williams had previously voted to appoint Altemose to the EMC position.